Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

Green Patent Power: Griffith Hack Report Analyzes Hybrid Car Patents

October 18th, 2009

The Griffith Hack law firm in Australia recently published a report that analyzes hybrid car patent filings and how those filings affect innovation and success in the hybrid car market.

The report, entitled “Who holds the power? Lessons from hybrid car innovation for clean technologies”, was written by Justin Blows and Mike Lloyd, both members of the firm’s Clean & Sustainable Technologies Group.

Dr. Blows and his colleague used patent analytics tools to compile a list of all hybrid car patents filed internationally since 1980, group those patents into families, and rate the quality or “dominance” of those patents. 

Their analysis found that Toyota is the world leader in hybrid car patent families with 43% of the total, or more than 4,000 families. 

Interestingly, the study also found that a small U.S. hybrid drivetrain developer called Paice, which has been aggressively litigating its patents against Toyota with some success, holds four of the ten most dominant patents.

The implications of Toyota’s patent dominance is discussed at length in the report.  Dr. Blows’s blog post summarizes as follows:

the market leader in hybrid technology has filed so many patents ahead of its rivals, that other major manufacturers are now being forced to use the technology ‘under license’ or develop very different types of vehicles

According to the report, there is an apparent correlation between the number of hybrid cars sold by Toyota and the number of patents filed.

Moreover, and perhaps most important, the report posits that Toyota’s agressive patent filings have helped the automaker build its hybrid brand and set “the standard for the hybrid power train” by creating early and lasting exclusivity in its vehicles’ dual-mode capability, i.e., the ability to drive using one or both of an electric motor and a conventional motor.

More broadly, in his comments about the report, Dr. Blows echoes Green Patent Blog’s raison d’etre:

“Our report shows that clean technology innovators are massively investing in IP, to ensure they remain competitive as the world moves into a new age of clean technology.”

Sony Ericsson Settles ITC Patent Suit with LED Professor

October 15th, 2009

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I’ve written before in this space about retired Columbia University Professor and LED innovator Gertrude Neumark Rothschild and her success litigating and licensing her patents (see, e.g., previous post here).  That success continues as four more defendants targeted by Rothschild in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) settled recently.

The biggest name is Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (Sony), whose settlement with Rothschild was given final approval by the ITC in August when the commission decided not to review an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) inital determination terminating the investigation with respect to Sony.

Also, in an initial determination (ID) made public last month, an ALJ granted motions by Tyntek Corp., Tekcore Corp. and Arima Optoelectronics seeking orders terminating the ITC investigations into their allegedly infringing products (Tyntek ID, Tekcore ID, Arima ID).

The settlements come in two consolidated ITC actions in which Rothschild alleged that about three dozen LED and consumer electronics makers infringe U.S. Patent No. 5,252,499 (’499 patent), which relates to methods of making LEDs capable of emitting shorter wavelength light (see previous posts on these actions here and here).

The ’499 patent is directed to methods of doping semiconductors, which means adding impurities to increase the number of free charge carriers.  Rothschild’s patented technology has had a major impact on LEDs by making production of green, blue and other short wavelength LEDs more economically viable. 

P3 and Smartlabs Settle Plug-in Energy Meter Patent Suit

October 11th, 2009

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In a previous post, I discussed a patent suit between P3 International (P3), a New York consumer electronics company, and SmartLabs Inc. (SmartLabs), UPM Marketing Inc.  and UPM Technology USA, inc. (collectively “UPM”). 

In that case, P3 alleged that UPM’s plug-in energy meters infringe U.S. Patent No. 6,095,850 (’850 patent).

P3 makes the Kill A Watt electric power meter, which allows consumers to determine how much energy particular appliances are using.   

P3 is the exclusive licensee of the ’850 patent, which covers the Kill A Watt meter.  The ’850 patent is directed to an electric adapter (1) having a plug (2) on its rear side which can be plugged into an electric socket (7). 

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The adaptor has an outlet socket with three holes (3a, 3b, 3c) on the front and a display (4) to show electrical parameters of the appliance being monitored.

The parties recently filed a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit, and Judge Denise L. Cote signed the stipulation (p3_stipulation.pdf) last month.  

The parties had previously agreed to narrow the issues in the case to only validity and enforceability of the ’850 patent.  This efficient approach apparently led to early resolution of the dispute.

Nanosolar’s Patent-Pending PV is Encapsulated But Boxless

October 4th, 2009

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Nansolar, a San Jose, California thin-film solar company, has made a lot of press announcements lately for various news items, including opening a solar panel assembly facility in Germany, boosting its CIGS cells’ efficiency and unveiling new Utility Panel technology. (read the Greentech Media story here)

According to Nanosolar, its Utility Panel is the first solar electricity panel specifically designed for utility-scale systems. 

The company’s white paper says the new solar panel provides electrical benefits (increased power per panel), reliability benefits (better sealing and encapsulation to prevent moisture damage) and mechanical benefits (superior strength due to tempered glass panes on both the back and front of the panel).

Nansolar has several pending patent applications relating to its encapsulation technology and large-scale solar modules.  U.S. Application Pub. Nos. 2007/0295385 (’385 Application), 2007/0295386, 2007/0295387, 2007/0295388, 2007/0295389 and 2007/0295390 comprise a family of applications directed to encapulated solar cells.

The ’385 Application describes a solar cell (10) having a protective layer (20) mounted in packaging that includes pottant layers (30, 32).  The packaging has at least one outer barrier layer (40), which may be made of tempered glass.

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The packaging may also have a backside support layer (50).  Edge sealing material (54) prevents moisture penetration and may be made of butyl rubber tape or epoxy.

U.S. Application Pub. No. 2008/0041434 is directed to a photovoltaic module designed to be used without a junction box. 

The module (10) includes a rigid transparent upper layer (12), a pottant layer (14) and a plurality of solar cells (16).  The transparent upper layer (12) is made of glass and provides structural support and acts as a protective barrier.

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A protective backsheet (20) has an electrically insulating layer (22), a support layer (24) and another electrically insulating layer (26).  In one embodiment, the electrically insulating layers are made of black alumina to maximize emission of heat, and the support layer is made of aluminum.

Openings (30) in the backsheet (20) allow wire (40) or wire ribbon (42) to extend outward from the module (10) and be connected to another module to create an electrical interconnection between modules, eliminating the need for a junction box.

According to the ’434 Application, this solar module design reduces manufacturing costs and redundant parts in each module.

Philips Withdraws ITC Case as LED Patent Term Wanes

October 1st, 2009

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In a previous post, I discussed a patent infringement action in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) between Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. (Philips) and Taiwanese LED maker Epistar Corp. (Epistar) involving U.S. Patent No. 5,008,718 (’718 Patent). 

In that case, Philips alleged that Epistar and United Epitaxy Company (UEC) infringed the ’718 Patent by selling certain AlGaInP LEDs.  The ’718 Patent is directed to an LED with a transparent window layer on top of the active semiconductor layers.

That post reported on a Federal Circuit decision reversing both an ITC limited exclusion order excluding Epistar’s LEDs from entry into the U.S. and an ITC ruling that Epistar couldn’t challenge the validity of the ’718 Patent.  

Philips recently moved to withdraw its complaint and terminate the investigation because the ’718 patent would expire on December 18, 2009, before the ITC could conduct further proceedings in the case.

An ITC administrative law judge (ALJ) granted the motion, and earlier this month the ITC issued a Notice of its determination not to review the ALJ’s decision to terminate the investigation.

Though the ITC case is over, a lawsuit between Philips and Epistar in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California remains pending, and Philips noted in its motion that it is not waiving any of its rights in that suit. 

GE Asserts Wind Power Patents Against Mitsubishi Again

September 27th, 2009

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The General Electric Company (GE) is the U.S. leader in installed wind capacity, and patent enforcement plays a part in that success.  Earlier this month GE sued Mitsubishi in the Southern District of Texas, alleging that its Japanese competitor’s 2.4MW turbine models infringe U.S. Patent Nos. 5,083,039 (’039 Patent), 6,921,985 (’985 Patent) and 7,321,221 (’221 Patent).

The complaint (ge_complaint.pdf) cites the sale and installation of Mitsubishi’s turbines at the Penascal and Gulf Wind wind farms in Kenedy County, Texas as infringing activities.

The asserted patents relate to energy conversion and control technology for wind turbines.  The ’039 Patent, which issued back in 1992, is directed to a variable speed wind turbine that provides responsive control of generator torque.  The patented turbine controls the torque reacted by the generators (16, 18) by controlling the stator currents or voltages and basing commands on turbine performance parameters.

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Shaft speed sensors (42, 44) monitor the rotor speed of the generators and supply rotor speed information to the generator controllers (38, 40) and to a torque command device (46).  Specifically, the torque command device (46) monitors wind turbine performance parameters and sends torque control signals to the generator cotrollers (38, 40) and pitch angle control signals to a pitch control unit (48). 

The ’985 Patent is directed to a wind turbine that includes a blade pitch control system and a turbine controller coupled with the blade pitch control system.  To increase the reliability of the turbine’s power supply, the turbine controller causes the blade pitch control system to vary pitch in response to transitions between different power sources.

The ’221 Patent is directed to improved methods for stabilizing the supply voltage to a wind turbine after voltage drops without jeopardizing the electrical components of the turbine.  According to the ’221 Patent, a key step in the patented method is to resume feeding of the rotor current after variations in voltage amplitude cause decoupling of the feed-in unit.

This lawsuit appears to be the second part of a two-pronged strategy to enforce these patents against Mitsubishi.  As mentioned in the complaint, GE obtained an initial favorable decision from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that Mitsubishi had not successfully challenged the validity and enforceability of these patents and that the accused wind turbines infringe the patents (ge_itc_initial_determination.pdf) (see the CleanIP blog post here).

The ITC action and this new federal court case squeeze Mitsubishi both with respect to importation of its turbines at the U.S. border and as to domestically produced equipment.

Excluded Icon? Paice ITC Action Seeks Prius Importation Ban

September 24th, 2009

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A U.S. patent historically has provided its owner with an almost absolute right to exclude others from making, using, selling and offering to sell the patented product.  That all changed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s eBay v. MercExchange decision in 2006.

In eBay the Supreme Court reversed the U.S. courts’ long-standing practice of automatically issuing an injunction upon a finding of patent infringement and instead held that the traditional four-factor equitable test for injunctive relief must be analyzed in each case.

The timing of the eBay decision couldn’t have been worse for hybrid technology company Paice, LLC (Paice).  Back in 2005, Paice sued Toyota in the Eastern District of Texas alleging that the second generation Prius, the Highlander and the Lexus RX400h sport utility vehicle infringed U.S. Patent Nos. 5,343,970 (’970 Patent), 6,209,672 and 6,554,088

In December of 2005, a jury found that the accused vehicles did not literally infringe Paice’s patents but did infringe two claims of the ’970 Patent under the doctrine of equivalents.  The jury awarded about $4.3 million in past damages.

Having succeeded on infringement, Paice moved for a permanent injunction.  Less than a month after the hearing on the injunction motion, but before the district court ruled on it, the Supreme Court handed down the eBay decision.

The court was now bound to analyze the four injunction factors.  As a result, the court refused to grant an injunction, instead awarding Paice an ongoing royalty of $25 per infringing vehicle (a figure that was later raised to $98 per vehicle).

As of the date of this writing, two other district court cases between Paice and Toyota over hybrid vehicle technology remain pending in the U.S. district courts.

Denied an injunction by the district court, the court-imposed ongoing royalty affirmed in principle by the Federal Circuit, Paice has pursued Toyota but hasn’t gotten any exclusion satisfaction out of its hybrid vehicle patents. 

That may be about to change.

Earlier this month, Paice filed a complaint in the U.S. International Trade Commisson (ITC) asking the ITC to investigate whether Toyota’s importation of the third generation Prius, the Camry Hybrid, the Lexus HS250h and RX450h (Accused Products) infringe the ’970 Patent.

The ITC is a federal agency that investigates trade and importation issues, including conducting quasi-judicial proceedings involving alleged infringement of intellectual property rights by importation of accused products pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1337.  It is a popular forum for patentees (though only injunctive relief is available, not monetary damages) because the proceedings progress much faster than those in the federal courts.

According to the complaint (paice_itc_complaint.pdf), Toyota has made judicial admissions in the form of discovery responses and stipulations in the prior district court actions that the drivetrains of the Accused Products are materially the same as those that were found to infringe the ’970 Patent.

Moreover, Paice asserts, Toyota is precluded from challenging the infringement, validity and enforceability of the ’970 Patent because those issues were “fully and finally litigated against Toyota” in the district court, giving rise to collateral estoppel. 

Paice further asserts that res judicata also precludes Toyota from challenging infringement of the ’970 Patent because the Accused Products are materially identical to the vehicles found to be infringing in the district court case.

According to Paice, that leaves only issues relating to “domestic industry,” which all ITC complainants must prove.  Section 337 requires there be an industry in the U.S. relating to the products at issue.  This includes an economic prong (demonstrated investment in plant/equipment, labor/capital, research and development or licensing) and a technical prong (demonstrated practice of the asserted intellectual property right).

Paice alleges it meets the domestic industry requirement because of its engineering, research and development activities and its licensing activities in the U.S.

Paice is requesting a permanent limited exclusion order barring entry into the U.S. of the Prius, Camry hybrid and the two accused Lexus models.  With this ITC action, Paice is ratcheting up the pressure on Toyota to pay a large sum in settlement and/or licensing fees. 

Considering what’s at stake here, I’m surprised the Paice complaint hasn’t gotten more media attention.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this could be the Blackberry case of clean tech and one of the biggest green patent stories we’ve seen so far.

Q2 2009 Sees Record No. of U.S. Green Patents; EPO and UN Study Green Patent Licensing

September 17th, 2009

There’s some catching up to do on green patent developments.  First, the 2009 second quarter report of the Heslin Rothenberg firm’s Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI) came out last month.  CEPGI tracks clean tech patent filings in the U.S.

According to CEPGI, 274 clean tech patents were granted in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2009 – the highest quarterly total ever. 

Fuel cell patents led the pack with 156 granted patents, followed by wind power technology (43) and solar (36).  All of those categories saw increases from the first quarter of 2009.

Although hybrid/electric vehicle patents fell from 30 in the first quarter to 20 in the second quarter, automotive companies still obtained the most clean tech patents.  Honda led with 17, GM had 15 and Toyota 12.

What happens to all of these green patents after they are granted?  The European Patent Office (EPO), along with the U.N. Environment Programme and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, is trying to find out.

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To better understand the role of patents in transfer of and access to clean technologies, the EPO is conducting a survey on licensing practices in the area of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs).  ESTs are defined as:

technologies that protect the environment, are less polluting, use resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their waste and products, or handle residual waste in a more acceptable manner than the technologies they substitute

The survey was launched in early August and information collection is set to close on September 25th.

The EPO hopes the results and findings of the study will provide guidance for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, where IP rights and transfer of clean technologies is likely to be a hotly contested topic.

Florida Power & Light Accused of Infringing Smart Grid Patents

August 19th, 2009

Sipco LLC (Sipco) is an Atlanta, Georgia-based developer of wireless mesh technology. 

Last month Sipco sued Florida Power & Light Co. and FPL Group Inc. (collectively “FPL”) in federal court in Miami, alleging that the wireless network technology in the utility’s smart grid system infringes three Sipco patents relating to smart grid technology.  According to the complaint (sipco_complaint.pdf), the infringing technology is being used as part of the Energy Smart Miami initiative to implement smart grid technology in Miami-Dade County.

The family of patents-in-suit comprises U.S. Patent Nos. 6,437,692, 7,053,767 and 7,468,661, each entitled “System and method for monitoring and controlling remote devices” (collectively “Sipco Patents”).

The Sipco Patents are directed to cost effective methods and systems for collecting, formatting and monitoring data from remote devices.  A control system (200) consists of one or more sensor/actuators (212, 214, 216, 222, 224) each integrated with a (preferably RF, or radio frequency) transceiver.  The control system also includes stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221). 

 

The integrated and stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221) are configured to receive an incoming RF transmission (from remote devices) and to transmit an outgoing signal.  Local gateways (210, 220) receive remote data transmissions from the integrated or stand-alone transceivers (211, 213, 215, 221), analyze the transmissions, convert them into TCP/IP format for internet transmission and communicate the transmissions via wide area network, or WAN (230).

According to the Sipco Patents, having the local gateways (210, 220) permanently integrated with the WAN (230) allows the server (260) to host application specific software that previously had to be hosted in application specific local controllers.  The Sipco Patents explain:

…the data monitoring and control devices of the present invention need not be disposed in a permanent location as long as they remain within signal range of a system compatible transceiver that subsequently is within signal range of a local gateway interconnected through one or more networks to server 260. 

The patented system avoids the expense of installing and connecting local networks of sensors, actuators and controllers, as was previously done in control system solutions for distributed systems.

The complaint alleges willful infringement and seeks treble damages and injunctive relief.

Quantum Dot Rivals Settle Patent Suit

August 15th, 2009

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In a previous post I discussed a patent infringement suit between Palo Alto nanotechnology company Nanosys and its Manchester, U.K. rival, Nanoco Technologies (Nanoco), involving Nanoco’s quantum dot technology. 

In that suit, Nanosys alleged that Nanoco and Nanoco’s U.S. distributor, Sigma-Aldrich, were infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 6,861,155 (’155 patent), 6,322,901 (’901 patent), 7,125,605 (’605 patent, 6,821,337 (’337 patent) and 7,138,098 (’098 patent) by making and selling quantum dot technology sold under the brand name Lumidots (nanosys_complaint.pdf).

Quantum dots are nano-scale semiconductors that emit near-monochromatic light when subjected to light or electrical stimulation.  Among the many applications of quantum dots are diode lasers, LEDs and solar cells.

Last month Nanosys announced that it had reached a settlement with Nanoco.  According to the press release, Nanoco agreed to terminate its Lumidots business in the U.S. but did not admit infringement or validity of the asserted patents. 

The asserted patents include two patent families: the ’155, ’901 and ’605 patents are entitled ”Highly luminescent color selective nanocrystalline materials” and are directed to nanocrystal particles having a semiconductor core and a semiconductor coating that emit light in a narrow spectral range.  The core consists of cadmium sulfur, cadmium selenium or cadmium tellurium, and the coating is zinc sulfur or zinc selenium.

The ’337 and ’098 patents, entitled”Preparation of nanocrystallites,” are directed to nanocrystallite manufacturing methods.  The ’337 patent describes the method as follows:

The method includes contacting a metal, M, or an M-containing salt, and a reducing agent to form an M-containing precursor, M being Cd, Zn, Mg, Hg, Al, GA, In or Tl.  The M-containing precursor is contacted with an X-donor, X being O, S, Se, Te, N, P, As, or Sb.  The mixture is then heated in the presence of an amine to form the nanocrystallite.